Mina Rees

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Mina Rees

Mina Spiegel Rees (August 2, 1902, Cleveland, Ohio – October 25, 1997, New York City) was an American mathematician. She was the first female President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1971) and head of the mathematics department of the Office of Naval Research of the United States.

Personal life[edit]

Rees was the daughter of Moses and Alice Louise (née Stackhouse) Rees. The family moved from Cleveland, Ohio to New York where Rees received her primary education in the city's public schools. In 1955, Rees married physician Leopold Brahdy. She died in 1997 at the Mary Manning Walsh home in Manhattan.[1]


She was valedictorian at Hunter College High School in New York City.[2] She graduated Summa cum Laude with a math major at Hunter College in 1923. She received a masters in mathematics from Columbia University in 1925. At that time she was told unofficially that "the Columbia mathematics department was not really interested in having women candidates for Ph.D's". She started teaching at Hunter College then took a sabbatical to study for the doctorate at the University of Chicago in 1929. She earned her doctorate in 1931 with a dissertation on abstract algebra titled "Division algebras associated with an equation whose group has four generators," published in the American Journal of Mathematics, Vol 54 (Jan. 1932), 51-65.[1] Her advisor was Leonard Dickson.


  • 1925-32 Instructor at Hunter College (on leave 1929-1931 while earning a doctorate)
  • 1932-40 Assistant Professor at Hunter College.
  • 1940 Associate Professor at Hunter College
  • World War II: Technical Aide/Executive Assistant with the Applied Mathematics Panel at Office of Scientific Research and Development.
  • 1947 ACM Council member [3]
  • 1945-51 Head of Mathematics branch at the Office of Naval Research
  • 1952-53 Depute Science Director for the Office of Naval Research.
  • 1953-61 Dean of Faculty at Hunter College
  • 1961-67 Full Professor and First Dean of Graduate Studies at City University of New York
  • 1967-69 Provost of the Graduate School and University Center at CUNY.
  • 1969-72 President of the Graduate School and University Center at CUNY
  • 1971 First Woman president of the AAAS

During her time at the Office of Naval Research, Rees headed research in a variety of programs, including hydrofoils, logistics, computers, and numerical development. She was especially instrumental in developing the ONR's implementation of projects studying mathematical algorithms for computing, as well as university research programs to build computers such as Project Whirlwind at MIT.[1]


Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics in 1962 from the Mathematical Association of America. This award was made "for outstanding service to mathematics, other than mathematical research" and for "contributions [that] influence significantly the field of mathematics or mathematical education on a national scale."

In 1983 Rees was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences "for her contributions to the scientific enterprise, especially in mathematics, astronomy, and computer sciences, from wartime, through the transition from war to peace, and continuing today."[4]

Kings Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom (Britain) and the President's Certificate of Merit (USA) for her important contributions during World War II.

AAAS Presidential Address: Mina Rees, "The Saga of American Universities: The Role of Science," Science (5 January 1973) 179:19-23.

Notable publications[edit]

  • "Division algebras associated with an equation whose group has four generators," published in American Journal of Mathematics, Vol 54 (Jan. 1932), 51-65.
  • "On the solution of nonlinear hyperbolic differential equations by finite differences", with Richard Courant and E. Isaacson, Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics 5 (1952) 243-255.
  • "The federal computing machine program" Science 112 (1950) 731-736.


  1. ^ a b c Oakes, Elizabeth. International Encyclopedia of Women Scientists. 2002. Facts on File.
  2. ^ Johnston, Laurie. "Competition Intense Among Intellectually Gifted 6th Graders for Openings at Hunter College High School; Prominent Alumni Program for Seniors", The New York Times, March 21, 1977. Accessed May 11, 2010.
  3. ^ Fifteen years ACM, Franz L. Alt, Communications of the ACM - Celebrating ACM's 40th anniversary, Volume 30 Issue 10, Oct. 1987
  4. ^ "Public Welfare Award". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 18 February 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

Williams' book focuses on the lives and contributions of four notable women: Mary Sears (1905–1997); Florence van Straten (1913–1992); Grace Murray Hopper (1906–1992); Mina Spiegel Rees (1902–1997).

  • In Service to Mathematics: The Life and Work of Mina Rees. Amy Shell-Gellasch, Docent Press, Boston, 2011, 138 pages. ISBN 978-0-9837004-1-8. Shell-Gellasch's book covers Rees' entire life. It includes an extensive chapter on her PhD dissertation under L. E. Dickson at the University of Chicago as well as photographs from the CUNY archive.

External links[edit]